America's Most Congested Highways

These roads and bottleneck intersections drive commuters crazy each day.

February 24, 2010, 4:32 PM

Feb. 25, 2010— -- Drivers trying to get through the New York City area might want to rethink their routes or take public transportation: five of the country's worst 10 highway interchanges are in the Big Apple.

And most of those are along the 8.3-mile-long Cross Bronx Expressway, a narrow highway blasted through dense bedrock that takes Interstate 95 across the northern part of the city.

Chicago-area residents may also want to leave their cars at home. The Dan Ryan Expressway, which cuts through the city's South Side, has five of the top 25 worst interchanges in the country, according to a new study by INRIX, a firm that provides real-time traffic and navigation services to private companies, government agencies and the public. (INRIX recently launched an iPhone application that gives drivers real-time traffic information.)

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The Cross Bronx, Dan Ryan and other roads around the country might have been built as superhighways, but today, they often look like parking lots.

Traffic moves at an average of only 11.4 miles an hour, for instance, at the nation's worst interchange, where the Cross Bronx meets the Bronx River Parkway at exit 4B. Traffic is backed up at that spot a shocking 94 hours a week.

At number two, where the Dan Ryan meets Canalport Avenue and Cermark Road at Exit 53, traffic moves at an even slower 11.1 miles per hour during the 83 hours a week it is backed up.

For those who don't drive in New York or Chicago, don't fret -- there are plenty of traffic nightmares near you.

The sixth-worst spot in the country is at the southern end of Interstate 91 in New Haven, Conn., says INRIX. The seventh-worst is an intersection on the Hollywood Freeway, Route 101, in Los Angeles near Los Angeles Street.

America's Worst Highways

But that is just the list of bad highways. INRIX also looks at overall traffic in cities across the country.

Los Angeles remains America's most congested city for the fourth straight year, followed by New York and then Chicago. Things in Washington, D.C., got worse: it now ranks number four, up from sixth-worst.

On the flip side, Houston saw improvement, moving from fourth-worst to sixth. The Dallas/Fort Worth area remained fifth worst. Rounding out the list were San Francisco, Boston, Seattle/Tacoma and Philadelphia, which bumped Minneapolis-St. Paul for the number 10 spot.

For the full list of the 100 worst highway interchanges , click here.

So, why are some spots worse than others?

Rick Schuman, author of INRIX's annual National Traffic Scorecard, said there are several factors and that his team just looked at the results, not the causes. But, he said, drivers know the causes all too well.

"Some are just capacity issues. There are too many vehicles that want to get on the same stretch at the same time," Schuman said. "There are six lanes of traffic fighting for three lanes of highway and no room to expand."

Elsewhere, there are specific bottlenecks because of poor or outdated design or just the cramped geography of the site. In other places, the sun either rises or sets at an angle that blinds drivers during peak hours.

"We don't know the stories, we just add up the scores," Schuman said.

Recession Was Good for Traffic

The bad news for drivers: the 30 percent drop in congestion that began in late 2007 or early 2008 is over. Traffic in 2009 leveled off. Now the question is: with low gas prices and more people working, it's hoped, as the economy recovers, will traffic worsen in 2010 or 2011?

"The severe recession and associated job loss has turned back the clock on congestion to levels likely last seen in 2004 or 2005. What happens in 2010 and beyond to congestion will largely be shaped by the rate and pace of economic recovery, in particular the rate -- or lack thereof -- of job growth on a regional and national scale," Schuman and his colleagues wrote in the report.

Because of congestion, Americans spend 8.9 percent longer in their cars than they would without traffic. So on a one-way, 30-minute commute, that would be an extra 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That might not sound like much, but over the course of a year it's an extra 22 hours spent commuting.

The length of the morning commute was actually down in 2009, but that was canceled out by a longer drive during the evening commute. One interesting note is that stimulus construction projects increased off-peak congestion by 25 percent over 2008.

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